How involved are your team’s mentors in the design and programming process?


It sounds like you haven’t talked to many (if any) students from teams sponsored and mentored by NASA engineers.


All mentor built bots do is make students learn less…

I would say that the students that work with these so called “mentor built teams” learn more than teams that have no mentors or are completely student driven.

If I were to give students on each team a test about how robots work I have a strong suspicion that the students on the team with strong mentor support would do better on said test.

Your statement isn’t based on anything proven and until you can prove otherwise using facts you shouldn’t make broad assumptions.


Wait it isn’t? What if you are colorblind…fully…colorblind :smiley:


I found a handy guide for determining how much students learn on a “mentor built” team


I think something that a lot of times gets forgotten in these discussions is where the knowledge that the mentors have comes from.

Mine came from being involved and learning right along with the students. My first season on 2363 was back in 2009. If a student had asked me “What is a PID?” they would have gotten my canned IDK response of “That’s a fantastic question!” After 11 seasons I know so much more and have so much more knowledge to pass along. Had I not been involved I would never have been able to gain this knowledge to help inspire my students even more.

TLDR: I knew nothing when I started mentoring. After 11 seasons I know a little less of nothing.


Cool, I’ve worked with teams where even that “cheap” machine woulda blown the robot budget. And the students came to robot meetings hungry because their parents couldn’t afford food. Had one student leave the team because their house got broken into and they got held at gun point… again. Their parents moved (rightfully so).

So go ahead, please tell me how these kids should just “work harder”. Go ahead and tell me how the kids who got exposed to “hey you can do STEM” working with their mentors should have just done it themselves when some of them hadn’t been taught math because their class was disrupted by students fighting.

I’m stopping here because the next words out of my mouth will be less than GP even if I have a hunch my grandma would approve (I never met my grandparents, but I know my parents would approve so I’m just assuming). @Ben_L You should take some time to consider what advantages you have compared to other students before making statements on the way things should be.


Disclaimer: I’m fine with some mentor designed components if it’s net positive. Having a mentor make a working drivetrain isn’t going to hurt anyone.

In my opinion, mentor input is more about altering competition rather than inspiring or lack of inspiring students by their amount of input. As a student, I get inspired by wanting to win, and knowing what I do can help us win. Mentors designing then teaching how a mechanism works is as inspiring as learning how a DC motor works in Physics.

Someone said mentor built isn’t always better. It doesn’t have to be the top 10% to matter. If you’re attempting to help, unless you mess up, you have bettered your robot. Then, you have successfully altered competition for people who play against you.

Remember that competition is relative! Unless ties happen, it’s not like we’ll only have more winners when more mentors contribute. Your amazing mentor designed intake win which inspires your team can be a student built loss on another. That’s why skewing competition matters.

The fact that “mentor built” has a negative connotation without much people passionately proud of being mentor built means that we agree FRC is a highschool level competition, right?


At what point is a robot considered to be mentor built?
If one of the mentors tightens some loose bolts for you while the students and another mentor exchange ideas trying to troubleshoot a not quite effective cargo effector, would that count?
What if your team buys a COTS item from a business that is associated with a team (like the Greybot lift from last year)? That item was clearly not made by high school students. Are you now violating the anti mentor built mantra?
What if the mentor looks through your CAD for you and notices that you have some errors that will screw up your machining and waste a part?
What if the mentor shows you some effective robot mechanism examples from other teams in previous years that you can use as ideas for your prototyping and design?
What if your team uses the Everybot CAD that is provided by 118 or watches some of the Robot in 3 days teams that clearly have adults designing and building and then uses what they observe to change their design? Are you now guilty of using mentor built ideas?

I am confused about these folks who derisively call a robot “mentor built” without talking to team members who were responsible for building and designing and fixing that robot. Do you really know?
Watch their pit for 10 minutes when something needs to be fixed. If only the mentors are working on the robot and the kids are consistently standing back, then you probably have a decent argument that the students have learned little and it’s a mentor built robot (though sometimes the adult is the only one strong enough to make whatever happen, happen. now you’re just using their muscles, which really shouldn’t count.) If you see students and mentors all over that robot like ants on a muffin crumb, then you know that the students are learning together with adults and I fail to see how that is taking anything away from the students’ experience. Before you judge, ask the students questions. See what they know. If they aren’t noobs and are on the design/build/troubleshoot team, you will find out how much they have learned and you might be surprised by what you discover.

You will likely find that the students on the supposed mentor built teams compare favorably to students on the student run teams and I can guarantee you, they are extremely knowledgeable and proud of their efforts and experience.

I’m not saying that student run teams don’t learn or aren’t as good. I am defending the mentor/student partnership approach to learning and competing as a valid model. If you want to avoid that approach, so be it. Let gracious professionalism be your guide.


You are operating under some misconceptions about FIRST. To start: it’s not about the robots. If a team only measures themselves on their success of their robot, then every team except 6 World Champions failed last year. Some with that viewpoint might say every team except 254 failed last year.

We all know that isn’t the case. If you created something and learned from it then FIRST was successful for you. If mentors allow you to believe that because robot XYZ beat you, you are somehow diminished, then shame on your mentors.

Your assertion that “mentor built” has a negative connotation is incorrect. It is negative among some circles. It so happens that the founders of FIRST think otherwise, and to be frank it’s stunning how many people just ignore that fact and continue trotting out this “Mentor Built” argument.

FRC is a competition that involves high school students. It is not a competition limited to what high school students can make. So no, I believe your comments are wrong. And so do the founders of FIRST Robotics.



To answer the thread’s question:

As close to 50/50 as possible. For our team, FIRST is about working along side mentors. We find the students get the most out of it that way. (As do the mentors, it’s an enriching experience for both parties.)


In all seriousness, team members should sit with their mentors and discuss what represents a winning season. Is it winning every competition you go to? Is it not missing a single match due to breakdowns? Is it making it to the playoffs? Getting picked in the first round? Winning a design award?

Life is a lot more fulfilling when you have reasonable expectations.


Disclaimer: I’m fine with some mentor designed components if it’s net positive. Having a mentor make a working drivetrain isn’t going to hurt anyone.

Your amazing mentor designed intake win which inspires your team can be a student built loss on another. That’s why skewing competition matters.

You do realize you are contradicting yourself right?


Perhaps I didn’t word my message properly. I was relating mentor input to competition, not the purpose of FIRST and competition. I was using the mentor-built phrase as an attempt to understand the general point of view here on CD, as it seemed contradictory among different mentors, (not that I care too much, as I said, you can make a drivetrain and I don’t really care). Right now, my new understanding (not sure if its right) is that I think it is that people don’t like being labelled mentor-built, but are generally fine with having mentors and students working together.

Previously in this thread, someone explained that mentor input is good, as mentor input helps reach wins, and students are inspired by a successful robot. It was something along the lines of success breeds success. And I’m fine with that to a certain point (maybe around 50% 50%?) (one of the mentors here said the world isn’t black and white, please keep that in mind, it’s not one extreme or the other).

I meant to counter that argument by saying an extra mentor-accomplished win can be another’s loss, as they are relative. So, if they meant that a win is more inspiring than a loss, doesn’t that mean that they think that a loss isn’t as inspiring? (So their inspiring win can be another’s less inspiring loss). If a loss can be inspiring (which I think so), then why would the mentor’s direct input really be needed?

NOT that winning and losing is only what matters, but that winning and losing, according to that person, has a correlation to the inspiration gained. Of course, both wins and losses are inspiring. But once again, the world isn’t black and white, one can be more inspiring than another, one team might be more inspired by a loss than another. So maybe we actually agree with each other, about how winning isn’t all that matters.

Of course, students can be successful by being inspired and learning something, even if its just a bit. However wouldn’t it be nice to accomplish more of FIRST’s mission within the same budget? I believe FIRST chose a competition as a medium to accomplish their mission as it is an easy way to motivate students, and the more students involved, the more their mission spreads. That is also why competition has a direct correlation to FIRST’s mission.

So then the other reason for mentor input (without the reason to be able to score higher) would be to teach concepts and inspire students in that way, or to enable a team to improve (as if exponentially, one small move forward can inspire a larger impact). That’s why I said I’m alright with a mentor designed drivetrain. If the purpose of direct mentor input is to teach mechanical concepts, I feel like off season would be a great timing to inspire students there as well. (Except, of course students are more naturally motivated by competition so they’ll be more inspired through the want of a successful robot in competition)

It’s not that wins and losses is what matters, its that the medium of accomplishing FIRST’s mission is making the robot (teamwork, thinking, planning, technical skills, learning, etc, )and competing (gracious professionalism, whatever) with a robot. Let’s not overlook this as being shallow for wins.

Also just to make things clear I’m not naming anyone mentor built nor care if a dominantly mentor designed robot is losing to student dominant bots, but rather I hope mentor contributions wouldn’t effect the competition level too much by countering FIRST’s mission by making other students lose potential inspiration (most likely still gain inspiration), while their own students also do not get to mentally claim credit for a win to the same 100%, which can decrease potential inspiration.

edit: I’m pretty sure most mentor contributions don’t effect competition that much so don’t take it personally, continue helping your team the way you want to help, I’m mostly referring to outliers.


The mentors help with doing things and making things but with generating ideas they don’t do much. I can say anything about the programming as I am not on that team but the mentors definitely help people a good bit with the actual building of parts


The FIRST Mentor Guide has some interesting thoughts on this subject:

I like this bit:

8.3 Transferring Ownership

The “learning and doing” progresses in four steps. The mentor starts out as “I do” and in certain areas, can finish as a sustaining “I watch.”
I Do – You Watch
I Do – You Help
You – Do I Help
You Do – I Watch


FIRST has their own goals for the program, but it is up to every team to interpret and do what they wish with them. As long as you pay the registration fees and play within their rules, you are allowed to do almost anything you want. That could mean building a robot to try and win as many events as possible, building a complex robot to learn how to design advance mechanisms, or building just a drive train so that you can add FRC to your resume. Part of the beauty of FIRST is that you get to decide what you want to get out of the experience.

The role of a mentor on a team is to help the team succeed with their goals. Because every team has a different set of goals, every team’s mentor involvement will be different. Just because a team utilizes mentors in a different way than you do, doesn’t mean that you should shame or belittle them. If you see a team that you want to emulate, talk to them and ask them about their goals and how they run their team. Try and learn something from them. If you see a team that does things differently than you do and you don’t agree with them, just don’t do that on your team. It’s okay for every team to do things differently and have their own motivation for participating in this program. Just don’t try and tear others down for doing things their own way and making their FIRST experience their own.


It’s a very long way from mentors designing some aspect of a robot (or other supporting systems) and being spoon fed by NASA engineers on high priced equipment. And more importantly, most students cannot afford to purchase a home CNC machine to learn by themselves.

There are also many ways to teach students, and the FIRST mentoring model appears to be built on the “I do, we do, you do” approach. Mentors are often seeing a new technology or method for the first time at the same time as the students. But the mentor brings much more experience to the task which often leads to a more rapid understanding that can then be conveyed to the student. But part of that understanding may require that the mentor work with the technology or method first with the student watching or working as a partner. Regardless, at the core, the mentor should be working with the student as a peer, albeit less experienced.

The objective for mentors should be to expose students to in the best way that the mentor thinks will work. Certainly a mentor should adapt to how a particular student learns, but that is not the same for every one. Some do not learn as well independently as others. It sounds as though you have done very well in your mode, but that may not be the best model for all other students. It’s being open to other possibilities that key to how each team manages its education process.


In other words, “There are only so many wins to go around, and an equal number of losses. So, if you’re trying to inspire your team by helping them win, recognize that you’re having the opposite effect on some other team.”?

It’s a good point.

But, I’m not going to worry about it too much because the great part for my team isn’t winning, but knowing that it’s their robot. They designed, programmed, built and fielded a competitive robot. And the fact that they did it with just some adults pointing them in the right direction is amazing. If they win, that’s icing.


Last year, one of our students discussed the use of Kalman filters for positioning in robot programming and he was accused on CD of being a mentor due to the depth of his knowledge. I vaguely remember Kalman filters from a graduate econometrics course I took 20 years ago, and the rest of the mentors think it has to do with cigarettes. Pointing students in the right direction is what makes teams succeed.